Nintendo's moustached Mario has been king of the karting games for some time now, seven editions in fact, but a couple of upstarts are attempting to steal the Italian plumber's karting crown.
Little Big Planet's SackBoy is taking to the kart tracks as a PlayStation exclusive title, while Sonic the Hedgehog is bringing his transformed racing pals along for the ride on almost every gaming device you can think of.
We're looking at two distinctly different kart racing games here, Little Big Planet Karting for the PlayStation 3 and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, and both have different strengths.
Little Big Planet Karting
Developer: United Front Games
The soothing oration of Stephen Fry introduces us to the Imagisphere, an area in space created by the random thoughts of grid-locked motorists, and from the get-go this title holds your attention by virtue of its inventiveness and novel concept.
Within the Imagisphere SackBoys and SackGirls live out a creative life, but the horde has arrived to ruin their fun... Only through karting will an escape from the monotony be possible.
The chosen form of harassment manifests simply as racing against the ragdoll-like SackBoy, or trying to blow him away in weapon arenas.
The guts of LBP Karting is more than the racing experience (thankfully) because karting in the LBP world feels very loose. In a similar way to the parent platforming games, the karting controls in this release are somewhat spongy, which may suit younger gamers.
Like any self-respecting kart game, all the power-ups are here with guided missiles and other offensive weaponry on hand with the twist being they can be used defensively if activated at the split second before impact. Mario Kart fans will be nodding in unison.
One of the coolest powers is the fast-forward control, and it's handled really nicely in the game, boosting the player forward as if via the TV remote control.
Other LBP quirks are present; the grappling hook helps navigate karts around the imaginative tracks, and bubbles containing all manner of collectibles can be gathered. These are then used to customise karts, Sackboy racers and the Pod that Sackboy inhabits.
Beyond that, the creative side of LBP kicks in; the ability to create your own tracks and arenas, or download others, and share them with the world is a big part of the game.
Exploring and racing on the creations of others, extending the play to the PlayStation Vita and being creative and collective will extend the life of the game, but if pure kart racing is your fancy then Sonic's latest outing might be more to your taste.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Developer: Sumo Digital
Platform: PS3, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, iOS, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U
In the typical SEGA way, the games presentation is colourful, bright and breezy with the ever helpful and excitable voice over guy constantly reading out-loud every menu choice you make.
The rather lengthy name, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, does encapsulate the games functions. Through a series of brightly themed tracks that dynamically alter throughout the race makes for intense racing. Up to 10 karts (human or computer controlled) can hurtle around, blasting each other with weapons, hitting boost pads and transforming from kart to boat and flying vehicle as the terrain dictates.
Shortcuts are important, as are timing the drifting boosts and managing power-ups. Unlike LBPK powerups are randomly distributed with the all-powerful race-winning "All-Star" transformation power being a rare treat.
SEGA has focussed on the kart racing in this title and though other challenges occasionally require negotiation, it is the pure karting action at the heart of this game and it's what will keep you coming back for more.
There are ten initial characters at the start of the game, with ten more to unlock, including new inclusions such as Wreck-it Ralph. Characters earn experience and level up after races that open up simple modifications for their karts, which can improve various performance aspects, but often lower another in the process, so it's a balancing act but it keeps the racing close.
Both games are fun, full of character and a riot of colour. Somewhat surprisingly, Little Big Planet Karting suffers from low frame rate issues and load times between events drag on. Sonic's game is a more focussed kart racing experience over the more creative 'sharing' focus of LBP, and while Sonic allows you to transform your kart to a plane or a boat, the latter is annoying and slow compared to the fun of flying and traditional karting.
If you own a PS3 you have a choice of either game, but Nintendo owners you now have a non-Mario path to karting fun with Sonic's latest racing adventure.
Ultimately, if you want fast-paced, Mario Kart instant action then Sonic would probably be your pick, while more considered gamers with a creative, considered mindsets may find the thoughtful game design of Little Big Planet Karting more appealing.
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